Some Thoughts on Acting---
THE POWER OF THE ACTOR
Acting is a complex and elusive art form which makes it difficult to define.
Words are not just read---they are performed and brought to life by actors.
Actors know that discovering and understanding personal pain is an inherent part of the acting
process. Actors learn how to use their emotions not as an end result, but as a way to empower a
The will to win is a constant element in drama and comedy. A character wants or needs
something which is the character‟s goal. It may be love, power, honor, validation, etc. The story
documents the way in which the character tries to win that particular desire or need.
The WHAT and HOW the character tries to win may be defined in many ways and it may take
various forms, but when the goals are broken down, every character‟s conflict/struggle is about
fighting to win. Fighting to win no matter what their goal is.
People fight to win in real life----so we need to see it in our characters---going after what they
want. Actors must create interesting and dynamic behavior so that the natural and powerful
human drive can be realized.
As humans we have various sufferings, joys, fears, hopes, experiences, etc. BUT do we wallow
in them and look for sympathy and understanding as a means of demonstrating or relieving those
Do we to ask ourselves:
1. To what end am I feeling all of this?
2. How do they shape me as a person?
3. How can these fractured, scattered and sometimes divergent emotions be focused to serve
a character in a script?
An actor may be able to dredge up deep, painful emotions, but in doing so their work may seem
self-indulgent. Coddling one‟s pain---on stage---creates the opposite effect almost to the point of
becoming self-pitying, self-involved, and weak. This makes the character a victim which is not
the best choice for an actor to make.
Instead the actor should use these emotional and physical traumas as a stimulus, not to self-
indulgently suffer, but to INSPIRE and DRIVE the character to great achievements.
When you study the lives of great people---you will find this to be true and a driving force for
them. As actors, we should mirror the behavior and nature of great people.
We need to replicate real, dynamic human behavior.
We need to commit ourselves to making fearless choices that will guide and empower us to use
our own pain to win the character‟s goals. We may break the rules and/or make new rules along
the way as we create emotionally heroic characters rather than victims.
An actor must identify their character‟s primal need, goal, or OBJECTIVE and within this
objective the actor must then find the appropriate personal pain that can effectively drive this
objective. The pain must be powerful enough to inspire an actor to fearlessly commit to doing
whatever it takes to WIN their OBJECTIVE. If the emotions are not strong enough, then there is
not enough there to help the actor sustain his/her fight to win. But when the appropriate personal
pain is paired with an objective, it connects the actor to their character‟s predicament, making
winning the objective real and necessary for the character.
As actors, we must find ways to psychologically personalize and feel the character‟s drive to
win. Avoid playing the victimization of the scripted character.
An actor who merely feels tends to turn his performance inward and does not energize or inspire
himself or an audience. But watching someone do ANY AND EVERYTHING to override pain
in an attempt to accomplish a goal or an objective puts an audience on the edge of their seats,
because the outcome becomes alive and unpredictable. Taking ACTIONS results in risk and,
therefore, an unexpected journey. It‟s not enough for an actor to be honest. It‟s the actor‟s job to
make the kind of choices that motivate exciting results. You can paint a canvas using real oil
paint, but if the final painting isn‟t a compelling image, no one will want to look at it.
OBSTACLES are not meant to be accepted but to be overcome in heroic proportions.
Aristotle defined the struggle of the individual to win as the essence of all drama. Overcoming
and winning against all the hurdles and conflicts of life is what makes dynamic people. ie:
Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, CHS theatre students
(people overcoming insurmountable struggles to achieve their goals) They didn‟t become
amazing, accomplished people despite their challenges, but because of them. These are the
qualities we want to duplicate in characterizations.
It‟s much more captivating to watch someone who‟s trying to win. A winner doesn‟t have to
actually win to be a winner---a winner tries to win, a loser accepts defeat.
The better you know yourself, the better actor you‟ll be. You need to understand what makes
you tick, profoundly and deeply. Discover a way to expose and channel all those wonderful
experiences/emotions that we all have. Your traumas, your beliefs, your priorities, your fears,
what drives your ego, what makes you feel shame, and what initiates your pride---these are your
colors----your paints to draw with as an actor.
12 Tools for Acting:
1. OVERALL OBJECTIVE: Finding what your character wants throughout the script.
2. SCENE OBJECTIVE: What your character wants over the course of an entire scene,
which supports the character‟s OVERALL OBJECTIVE.
3. OBSTACLES: Determining the physical, emotional and mental hurdles that make it
difficult for your character to achieve his or her OVERALL and SCENE
4. SUBSTITUTION: Endowing the other actor in the scene with a person from your
real life that makes sense to your OVERALL OBJECTIVE and your SCENE
5. INNER OBJECTS: The pictures you see in your mind when speaking or hearing
about a person, PLACE, thing or event.
6. BEATS and ACTIONS: A BEAT is a thought. Every time there‟s a change in
thought, there‟s a BEAT change. ACTIONS are the mini-OBJECTIVES that are
attached to each BEAT that support the SCENE‟S OBJECTIVE and, therefore, the
7. MOMENT BEFORE: The event that happens before you begin the scene which
gives you a PLACE to move from, both physically and emotionally.
8. PLACE and FOURTH WALL: Using PLACE and FOURTH WALL means that you
endow your character‟s physical reality with attributes from a PLACE from your real
9. DOINGS: The handling of props, which produces behavior.
10. INNER MONOLOGUE: The dialogue that‟s going on inside your head that you
don‟t speak out loud. (To find the INNER MONOLOGUE we have to personalize the
discovery whether it is joyful or painful.)
11. PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES: Your character‟s history---accumulation of life
experiences that determines WHY and HOW your character operates in the world.
The actor must then personalize the character‟s PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES and
make them your own so that you can truly understand the character‟s behavior and
become and live the role.
12. LET IT GO: While these tools use the intellect, it is not a set of intellectual exercises.
These tools provide a way to create human behavior so real that it produces the
grittiness and rawness of really living a role. In order for the actor to duplicate the
natural flow of life and be spontaneous, he or she has to get out his/her head. To
achieve this you have to trust the work you‟ve done with the previous eleven tools
and LET IT GO.
Once someone gives up the struggle to win, the story is over, leaving an audience unfulfilled.
I. OVERALL OBJECTIVE: The overall objective gives a script a beginning, middle, and end.
It defines the journey for the actor as well as for the audience. All the other acting tools must
serve and support the OVERALL OBJECTIVE.
Many actors fall into the trap of believing that just being real or having real, deep emotional
feelings is acting---it isn‟t. Too many actors feel that if they have reached real tears in their work
that they have successfully fulfilled the role. It‟s how you use those emotions to fuel your goal
that makes the art of acting exciting to play as well as to watch. Without the purpose of a goal,
without the struggle to win, the purely emotional actor will be a victim to the circumstances of
the script, and no one likes to watch a victim be a victim. We want to watch a person change
their life, not accept abuse.
An actor must learn to use emotions, not as an end result, but as a tool to provide the passion to
overcome the conflict of the script.
The overall objective fuels the ACTIONS and creates a sense urgency.
Our emotional lives come only as a result of getting or not getting our goals.
Emotions are a reACTIONS to an ACTIONS, not the other way around.
Finding your overall objective first keeps you from having to pump up emotions before you
begin acting, and it allows the emotions to emerge in a more natural, human way.
Working scene to scene to win your overall objective creates real behavior in every scene----the
behavior emerges as real and unique in the journey to achieve the goal---the behavior generates
in-the-moment tension that makes an audience breathlessly watch and cheer for your character.
The audience is able to relate to the behavior and therefore the character. The audience will
make it their own resolution. People will be more likely to support another person if they feel
the character‟s struggle is the same as their own.
Your character‟s OVERALL OBJECTIVE must be worded in a way that establishes a change in
their life that is necessary for physical and/or emotional survival.
Here are some good OVERALL OBJECTIVES to consider:
(Note that they all begin with „to‟.)
to find love
to get power
to be unconditionally loved
to have children
to get married
to be loved by my mother and father
to get my ex back in my life
to have a great career
to be validated
to stay alive (to survive)
to protect and keep a loved one alive
We don‟t need an actor‟s interpretation to provide plot. The script gives us that.
The OVERALL OBJECTIVE should be simple, basic, and active: Keeping the OVERALL
OBJECTIVE simple and human also creates an arena in which the actor can stop acting and
really be in the scene. The most common mistake people make is to make the OVERALL
OBJECTIVE too complicated and, therefore, too complicated to play.
Don‟t intellectually decide your OVERALL OBJECTIVE: Instead, decide on three or four---
determined from the circumstances of the script---and try them all in rehearsal. By the end of the
second page of dialogue, the simplest and most effective choice for OVERALL OBJECTIVE
will become obvious.
The OVERALL OBJECTIVE has to be a simple, bottom-line, primal need that will make sense
throughout the script.
No matter the length of the script, the overall objective must provide a coherent and focused
Read the entire script more than once. That is the only way to determine the more specific
elements about your character and begin to think about how the other characters relate to you and
talk about you, even when you‟re not there.
Never judge your character or his or her objectives: Noel Coward said, “You can‟t judge art.”
Likewise, you can‟t judge your character or his or her objectives. A stupid person never thinks
they‟re stupid. An evil person doesn‟t think they‟re evil---they always have a righteous reason
for doing what they do.
You can‟t contaminate your canvas with moral doctrines and societal values. Nurturing your
values takes energy and focus away from your character and their goals. Art needs room to
breath, with the freedom to discover without restraint. The colors you use in your work have to
include a buffet of attributes. This consists of the good, likable part of who you are, but it also
includes the parts that make you bad, the darker elements that reside in all of us. It may make
you feel smarmy, but really, it‟s the darker parts of being human that usually drive us to seek a
goal with vengeance, passion and urgency---making the journey taken by the OVERALL
OBJECTIVE a more exciting one.
When determining your OVERALL OBJECTIVE, don‟t be afraid to investigate and use the
ugly, darker parts of who you are. You may be playing someone who might, by society‟s
standards, be considered a bad person, but that person feels that what he or she is doing is right.
This needs to be reflected in your OVERALL OBJECTIVE.
You must analyze the psyche of the character and find a way of making your character feel
righteous in his behavior by investigating the probable primal issue(s) that makes your character
behave the way he or she does today. You look at the character‟s psyche and then find out how
that duplicates itself emotionally in your life, thereby making the character‟s amoral, outrageous
behavior actually make good sense.
Personalize Your Character‟s OVERAL OBJECTIVE.
The OVERALL OBJECTIVE and SCENE OBJECTIVE are the driving forces of this script
analysis technique. Without OVERALL or SCENE OBJECTIVE, there‟s no need, no point, no
consequence, no path and most important…no journey.
II. SCENE OBJECTIVE: What your character wants over the course of the entire scene.
The scene objective has to support rather than negate the overall objective because each scene is
a consecutive link, collectively building into one chain that complete the arc of the entire story.
A scene objective is the specific drive of intercommunication between you and the other
character within a scene, whereas the OVERALL OBJECTIVE is the broad strokes of what your
character seeks throughout the whole script. The SCENE OBJECTIVE is the precise way that
you‟re going to achieve the OVERALL OBJECTIVE, informed by the dialogue and activity of
the particular scene that you‟re breaking down.
The SCENE OBJECTIVE must be worded in a way that requires a response. For instance: “to
get you to be my friend.” In other words, something you can get from the other person in the
scene. Going after your SCENE OBJECTIVE should include the other person, which prevents
you from talking at the other actor---instead, it makes you talk to him. In this way you are
looking for a reACTIONS, not a sounding board. You must answer the question, “Have I
worded my SCENE OBECTIVE in a way that generates a response?” You have to bottom-line
your needs, taking out the intellect and working the SCENE OBJECTIVE so that it is basic,
needy and primal. This will allow you to act from your body, not your brain. When you are
being rational, you are in control. But when the stakes are high---your rational brain goes out the
window, your body and emotions take over, and you end up behaving in a way that often
surprises you. “Where did that come from? I‟m usually never like that.” is the thought that
should arise as a result of a good bottom-online, high-stakes, basic-needy-and-primal SCENE
Two examples of a cerebral and rational thought process for SCENE OBJECTIVE are:
1. I want to figure out how your mind works so that I can see if we have enough in common
to fall in love.
2. I need you to understand why I do the things I do because I was abused as a child and I
wonder if you can relate to that.
As you can see, this kind of phrasing for a SCENE OBJECTIVE becomes too heady and
confusing to create a straightforward journey. Stay away from over-intellectualized concepts.
No matter how smart or stupid your character is, primal needs are always the same---they‟re
primal. Try several SCENE OBJECTIVES---the most effective SCENE OBJECTIVE will be
obvious and fit like a glove.
The SCENE OBJECTIVE never changes midway through the scene. The SCENE OBJECTIVE
has to make just as much sense at the beginning of the scene as it does at the end in order to have
a beginning, middle and end.
The SCENE OBJECTIVE should be a simple thought process.
The SCENE OBJECTIVE has to be something you can process from your mind, heart, gut, and
sexuality---simple human needs like:
To get you to love me
To get you to give me a job
To make you validate me
To make you my ally
To get you to give me my power back
To make you wrong so I can be right
To get you to give me hope
To get you to worship me
To get you help me feel better
Some wrong approaches:
I need love
I need a job
I want validation
I need an ally
I need power
I want to be right
I want hope
I want to feel better
I want to be worshipped
These are wrong because the structure and conceptualization of the wording does not demand a
response. You‟re not affecting the other actor.
Acting is the interplay between people.
You have to change the other person to ultimately get what you want.
The SCENE OBJECTIVE must be phrased to require a response. The back-and-forth interplay
of two actors trying to win what they need from each other is as exciting as watching a good
boxing match. The more powerful the SCENE OBJECTIVE you choose, the more powerful the
response, and thus, the more powerful the scene. Going after a SCENE OBJECTIVE that
requires a reACTIONS will always keep you present, because you have no idea how the other
actor is going to react. And based on that unknown reACTIONS, you don‟t know how you‟re
going to respond. It keeps the acting work you‟re doing truly a moment-to-moment experience.
The OVERALL and SCENE OBJCECTIVES are the most important acting tools.
While your emotional life is important, it is the emotions that fuel a goal, BUT the emotions just
lay there---a quivering mass of useless feelings. When an actor just emotes, the audience
experiences it as a self-indulgent performance. Inner work by itself, without an OBJECTIVE,
creates a static emotional arena and scene because emotions by themselves have no forward
motion. Emotions are the reACTIONS to an event or stimulus. What you do with those
emotions to achieve your SCENE OBJECTIVE is what creates a powerful performance. Let the
emotions be the impetus, or motivation, to achieve your SCENE OBJECTIVE, not the end itself.
Always make the SCENE OBJECTIVE about relationship---don‟t play the plot.
If all an audience wanted to see is plot, then we wouldn‟t need actors. They could just read the
SCENE OBJECTIVE gives the scene a beginning, middle, and an end with a focused through-
line and journey. It also gives a scene a reason for being---it answers the question: “Why does
this scene exist?” SCENE OBJECTIVE makes the material make more sense by giving each
character movement and direction for the emotions and ideas in the scene.
Figure out where and how the particular scene fits into the entire script. A SCENE OBJECTIVE
must support the OVERALL OBJECTIVE in order to enable your character to take a journey
that begins at A and logically ends at Z. This requires you to consider exactly where that
particular scene fits into the whole script---beginning, middle, or end.
Earn the right to get to the end of the script. An actor must keep in mind how the script ends and
earn the right to get there.
Even if your character dies, you must earn the right to die.
If you kill someone, you must earn that, too.
Don‟t judge your SCENE OBJECTIVE: Don‟t contaminate your choices with societal views,
morality or personal issues. That judgment becomes a form of censorship. And censorship
contradicts art. Sometimes what looks like a horrible situation can be viewed as something
Always make selfish choices. We always do more to get something when it involves something
for ourselves rather than for someone else.
There is a SCENE OBJECTIVE in every scene---no exceptions.
Working with SCENE OBJECTIVE in three-or-more-person scenes: If a scene has more than
two people, never mind trying to get a response from everyone. Select the hot person in the
scene—someone you do everything for. All the other characters then serve to be a witting or
unwitting ally in your attempt to accomplish your scene objective.
The OVERALL and SCENE OBJECTIVE are driven by goal, making it active and interactive---
you‟re creating communication.
Do not do you inner work first and then try to layer objectives on top of it---cart before the horse,
as they say. If you do this, the SCENE OBJECTIVE ceases to drive the scene.
III. OBSTACLES: are the physical, emotional and mental hurdles that make it difficult for your
character to achieve his or her objectives.
OBSTACLES give power and intensity to your objectives by making your goal harder to
Winning is only satisfying when there is a possibility of failure. The possibility of failure
emanates from OBSTACLES.
First you must figure out the OBSTACLES that make sense to the character in the script and
your OVERALL and SCENE OBJECTIVES. Then you can go back through the scene and
personalize them, make the OBSTACLES make sense to your life.
Using OBSTACLES creates the challenge: The more difficult and risky it is for you to realize
your OVERALL and SCENE OBJECTIVES the greater the journey for you as an actor as well
as your audience.
OBSTACLES generate the difficulty that make for a more dramatic result.
It is almost impossible to list every OBSTACLE in a script but anything and everything that is a
hurdle or creates conflict is an OBSTACLE.
Most OBSTACLES fit into one of three categories: physical, mental, and emotional.
Race and religion
Physical size extremes
Political beliefs and principles
Secrets and lies
Formal education or lack thereof
The OBSTACLES you infuse in your work should always be the hardest, most demanding,
problematic and challenging.
OBSTACLES produce desperation, and desperation creates comedy: OBSTACLES are there to
heighten and intensify the drama, and the more OBSTACLES you have to overcome in realizing
your SCENE OBJECTIVE, the more desperate you‟ll be in going after that SCENE
OBJECTIVE. In the name of wanting something really badly, we often find ourselves behaving
in a silly, crazy and outlandish manner.
OBSTACLES help you better understand the motivations of your character.
All of your character‟s OBSTACLES are not necessarily written in the script---some must be
determined by conjecture and supposition (assumed) based on the facts of the script.
Once you‟ve identified the most challenging OBSTACLES, never give up on your SCENE
OBJECTIVES, even if the OBSTACLES seem impossible to overcome.
IV. SUBSTITUTION: Endowing the other actor in the scene with characteristics of a person
from your real life who best represents the need expressed in your SCENE OBJECTIVE.
First, find the most compelling and appropriate SUBSTITUTION and then personalize them.
SUBSTITUTION gives you an immediate history with another character or problem and all
the layered emotional responses that come with it. Using SUBSTITUTION enables you to
attach emotions---emotions that have the depth and complexity that usually take years to
develop---with another actor.
You may have known the actor for only a short period of time, but your character has had a
lengthy relationship with the other actor‟s character in the script. With SUBSTITUTION
you can endow the actor playing the role with the involved history you already have with the
SUBSTITUTION. Ie: if you use your mother as the SUBSTITUTION, then you can endow
the actor/character with the emotional history and experiences that have developed with your
SUBSTITUTION creates a truly human relationship, not an acted out interpretation that is
merely motivated by a cerebral source.
We have all noticed that we act differently around different people. Likewise, a performance
can change radically depending upon whom you are thinking about and responding to (your
SUBSTITUITON is effective because we have such unique responses to each individual we
come into contact with. Each SUBSTITUTION choice will provide different reACTIONS
It‟s important to use real people in your acting work because you don‟t know how you‟ll
really behave in front of a person when there‟s a lot at risk. You think you do, but you don‟t.
SUBSTITUTION grounds an actor‟s work, providing you with real people to react and
interact with. This leads to appropriate, real and original behavior, which will often be a
surprise to you the actor.
Tips on how to create a SUBSTITUTION:
Find one thing about the actor‟s face that reminds you of the person you‟re using as the
SUBSTITUTION----eyes, eyebrows, skin color, nose, lips, cheekbones, forehead, etc. It is
important to use one specific feature, because your mind has a hard time latching on to vague
Concentrate on that one feature until the feeling of the person comes to you in your gut---
concentrate until you feel that person‟s essence in front of you.
This entire exercise should only take five to ten seconds.
Identifying who to use as a SUBSTITUTION: You must find the person who provides the
appropriate emotional and physical reACTIONS. Your SCENE OBJECTIVE answers this
Don‟t be literal about your SUBSTITUTION choice---look at it from an emotional point of
Your family members will often be your SUBSTITUTION choice.
You don‟t know if it will work until you try it.
Your SUBSTITUTION is not always going to be a linear or literal path from the character to
the script. Ie: if your character has a fight with their mother, your SUBSTITUTION may not
be your actual mother, but a fight you had with someone more appropriate to the emotional
behavior/history of the script and your SCENE OBJECTIVE.
Not all scenes require a SUBSTITUTION, but the tool is there if you need it.
SUBSTITUTION is tool that you use if you need emotional history.
You‟ll find that there are only a handful of people in your life who are powerful enough to
use as SUBSTITUTIONS.
SUBSTITUTION provides catharsis (a purging): Acting allows us to do things we can‟t
normally do because real events or convention keep us from experiencing them.
Be open to change your SUBSTITUTION. Yesterday‟s dramas take the backseat to today‟s
dramas if they are more appropriate.
Take risks with your choices: “Always, always, take risks!” To create risk there must be
huge, risky OBSTACLES to overcome. If you make a SUBSTITUTION choice that allows
you to easily gain your SCENE OBJECTIVE, there‟s no real need to do anything exciting to
get what you want.
There must always be inherent OBSTACLES attached to your SUBSTITUTIONS.
When making a substitution choice, always ask yourself:
Who do I most need to get my scene objective from?
And from that list….
Who is most unlikely to give it to me?
This brings the possibility of failure into the equation, which will create unpredictability for
you, the other actor and the audience. The possibility of failure also allows your personal
flaws to emerge, which will create affectations and mannerisms that are unique to you.
When picking your substitutions always consider the scripts OBSTACLES. Look for the
following reACTIONS and determine which one affects you the most:
Touching you emotionally.
Giving you passion to succeed in achieving your SCENE OBJECTIVE.
Having inherent OBSTACLES.
Making sense to the script itself.
Here is a list of possible SUBSTITUIONS:
Your father, mother, stepmother or stepfather, boss, ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, older brother,
family member like an uncle/aunt or grandmother/grandfather, your present
A teacher, casting director, director, producer, agent, et al; an abusive friend
Personalizing OBSTACLES: A practical application
First, review the OBSTACLES you‟ve already listed and defined that are established from
the script itself. Then, with your substitution in mind, determine what similar OBSTACLES
exist within your relationship with your substitution.
As with substitution, personalizing the script‟s OBSTACLES isn‟t always a linear thought
The OBSTACLES that need to be personalized are not always obvious or written in the
Dig deep. Look below the surface to those dark, tortured and hidden PLACEs that reside
inside of you.
V. INNER OBJECTS: The images and pictures you see in your mind when speaking or
hearing about a person, PLACE, thing or event. These rolling images are associations we
make based on our past and present experiences. Likewise, any character you play must also
have a movie behind their eyes. As an actor, we must make our own personal and
appropriate associations to find the right pictures. This is so that when you say or hear
dialogue, the visuals and pictures that come up don‟t should feel like they are emanating
from your own personal life. If you don‟t have clear associations to the words, they will
seem and feel meaningless. It‟s your job as the actor to personalize the words that come
from the author‟s mind and make it appear and reel as though they come from your mind.
Using INNER OBJECTS makes this happen.
INNER OBJECTS are never random.
Our INNER OBJECT movie plays constantly---your mind never goes blank because we are
The SUBSTITUITION choice you‟ve made will determine your choices for the INNER
Your INNER OBJECT choices should be made on an emotional level, not a physical level.
INNER OBJECTS should have inherent OBSTACLES attached to them: The more specific
and angst-ridden your choices are for the INNER OBJECTS in a scene, the more they will
evoke an emotional response for you, the other actor and the audience. Generally, high
stakes are created by conflict---if a choice is unproblematic it becomes too easy to assimilate
and therefore not particularly interesting. Take a risk.
It‟s not just your own dialogue that requires INNER OBJECTS---the other actor‟s words
must be attached to pictures that mean something to you.
When we listen, we don‟t try to imagine another person‟s life, we relate everything we hear
to our own world.
The function of INNER OBJECTS is to use them not physically but rather emotionally to
duplicate the pictures used in the dialogue.
Make your INNER OBJECTS Personal
INNER OBJECT choices are not always linear.
INNER OBJECTS can take a negative experience from you life and make it positive.
INNER OBJECTS are enormously effective when working with material that is rich in
jargon, be it political-speak, financial lingo, psychobabble, science or techno-gibberish.
Make the most current and high-stakes INNER OBJECT choices
Try different INNER OBJECT choices.
Writing INNER OBJECT choices on the page: The practical application.
Handwrite each INNER OBJECT choice directly beneath the word(s) that it‟s attached
Acting is an infinite experience, there‟s always something more to learn and more to
experiment with. It‟s not over „til the fat lady sings, and in art, the fat lady has laryngitis.
VI. BEATS AND ACTIONS: A BEAT is a thought change. ACTIONS are mini-objectives
attached to each BEAT. BEATS and ACTIONS are the various approaches one takes to
achieve the SCENE OBJECTIVE.
Whenever a thought changes in the script, a BEAT changes. Put a bracket around each
(BEAT) to indicate when one BEAT ends and the next BEAT begins.
A BEAT can be one word, one line, or even as much as a page of dialogue.
The criterion for a BEAT change is when the dialogue indicates a new thought.
Be aware that a BEAT change in your initial script analysis might change when you are
saying the words out loud. AND the BEAT change might differ depending upon how the
other actor(s) are responding to you. Always be open to the possibility of changing up the
BEATS---this will keep you in the present and raw.
ACTIONS are mini-objectives, the different approaches you take to most effectively achieve
your scene objective. ACTIONS are accomplished both verbally and behaviorally.
Like the Scene objective, BEATS and ACTIONS have to be worded to elicit a reACTIONS,
to affect the other person, not just to talk at them.
BEATS and ACTIONS allow you to be present and authentic.
Your need for a reACTIONS from the other person (BEAT and ACTIONS) empowers that
person, because it makes the other person feel necessary and important.
If you don‟t require a reACTIONS from the other actor(s), you diminish them and waken
your ability to win your SCENE OBJECTIVE.
BEAT and ACTIONS choices are all worded to get a reACTION, so that you can establish
interACTIONS with the other person and, thus, a relationship. The wording gives you a way
to make the other person your focal point and keeps you from being self-conscious and self-
ACTIONS have the power to change meaning and intention. This gives you the freedom to
discover more interesting and unique ways of being and speaking the dialogue. Without
BEATS and ACTIONS, you are likely to make an obvious, literal reading.
The BEAT and ACTIONS you choose will determine what you‟re trying to communicate,
regardless of the actual words. The BEAT and ACTIONS make the meaning of the words
Using just obvious, black-and-white ideas may cause you to miss out and lose all the other
possibilities---the shades of gray---that exist between the black and white. The gray area is
literally and figuratively blank and begs for interpretation that is inspired by specific BEAT
and ACTIONS choices.
Ask yourself, “What do I want to win (SCENE OBJECTIVE)? And how is the best, most
effective way (both verbally and behaviorally) to achieve it (BEATS and ACTIONS)?”
The ACTIONS must support the SCENE OBJECTIVE to create a focused thread that weaves
throughout the entire scene. The more you go after trying to win your SCENE OBJECTIVE,
BEAT by BEAT, ACTIONS to ACTIONS (using different approaches and tactics in both
speech and physicalization), and the more you find that you are not winning your SCENE
OBJECTIVE, the more, you‟ll be driven to try harder. This causes a crescendo to the arc
you‟re creating in the scene. You also have to make the other character want to give you
your SCENE OBJECTIVE, by making the most effective choices for BEATS and
Apply BEATS and ACTIONS to nonverbal moments.
Even when the other actor is speaking, your BEATS and ACTIONS should never stop.
When you are listening you still need to make sense of what you want from the other
character---with or without words. When you stop talking and the other person is speaking,
you must continue to attempt to get the desired reACTIONS with behavior. Your needs
don‟t stop just because your words do!
There are no right or wrong choices, just more effective or less effective ones.
You must consider your character‟s MODUS OPERANDI, the “Who-am-I”
Keep in mind the “who am I” of your character---kand how your character would be most
effective in winning the SCENE OBJECTIVE.
You must also consider the other character‟s modus operandi, the “who-are-they? which will
help you determine how to get what you want.
Your BEAT and ACTION choices should be focused and driven.
Don‟t go after your BEATS and ACTIONS as though they are a list of things to be
accomplished, performing one after the other like a runaway train.
Consciously pursue the BEAT and ACTION. Let the winning or losing of a BEAT or
ACTION fuel your response---one BEAT/ACTION at a time like climbing a set of stairs---
one step at a time. Don‟t skip BEATS/ACTIONS and don‟t skip steps until you get to the
end of the scene/script.
Working to get a reACTION keeps you out of your head and in the moment. When you are
deeply focused on getting a reACTION from the other person, it‟s difficult to watch yourself
and set or preplan a way of saying and performing the dialogue. This creates spontaneity.
You can repeat a BEAT and ACTIONS in the scene.
Try different BEATS and ACTIONS in rehearsal to identify the best ones.
BEATS and ACTIONS realize the words.
Just a side note----what usually makes us laugh is not what someone says, but what someone
does. BEATS and ACTIONS not only serve the dialogue, but also create behavior that goes
along with it.
We must learn to physically realize a script‟s words. Maybe we should first act out the
behavior of the BEAT/ACTIONS before we add the words.
Commit to your BEATS and ACTIONS---go after your ACTIONS boldly and without fear.
Push the envelope. And don‟t be afraid to boldly realize your BEATS and ACTIONS. The
more risks you take and the more fearless you are, the more exciting the end result will be.
Don‟t censor yourself.
Consider what the character is really trying to do in accomplishing the SCENE OBJECTIVE.
Read between the lines.
Look at BEATS and ACTIONS as a subset of scene objective, and scene objective as the
subset of your overall objective.
VII. MOMENT BEFORE: The event that happens before you begin the scene gives you
a PLACE to come from, both physically and emotionally.
The right MOMENT BEFORE will drive you scene objective, inspiring great need and
urgency. There are three questions you must ask yourself when looking for your MOMENT
1. What do I want? (scene objective)
2. Why do I want it so badly? (OBSTACLES, substitution, and INNER OBJECTS.
Your OBSTACLES, substitution and INNER OBJECTS provide you with a need to
win your scene objective)
3. Why do I want it so badly right now? (MOMENT BEFORE. The MOMENT
BEFORE increases your need to win your scene objective by giving it urgency and
immediacy. In other words, the MOMENT BEFORE provides the scene with the
idea and pressures of time.)
The MOMENT BEFORE ramps up your need to win your scene objective immediately. The
MOMENT BEFORE is the tool that moves you into the appropriate urgent mental, physical and
emotional space for the scene. Additionally, the MOMENT BEFORE gives you a PLACE to
begin because, like life, a scene never starts from ground zero. The MOMENT BEFORE helps
you know hwy and where you‟re coming from and how badly you presently need your scene
It is important to know that a scene doesn‟t begin where it begins in a script. There is an
assumed or implied event that has occurred to motivate the text. The practice of the MOMENT
BEFORE makes the on-the-page scene become a continuation of an ongoing interACTIONS
rather than the beginning of one. The MOMENT BEFORE allows you to treat every scene as if
you are already in the thick of it.
Applying the MOMENT BEFORE:
1. Determine what personal event will produce a high-stakes need.
2. Just before you walk on stage, give yourself about a minute to relive the personal
event you‟ve chosen. Think about it as if the even has just happened.
3. To relive the even, remember every detail. Think about the space---visualize what it
looked, felt and smelled like, and what the other person looked, felt and smelled like;
hear the actual words you and he/she used; and feel your ACTIONS and reACTIONS
viscerally. Essentially, re-feel it with all your senses. Let this reliving put you in a
heightened emotional and physical state.
Applying the MOMENT BEFORE should never take more than a minute.
Always use personal events for your MOMENT BEFORE---make them recent or based on past
events where the issues remain unresolved---the lack of resolution keeps your feelings
percolating in your heart and your mind.
Don‟t use an event that has been resolved. Knowing the outcome to an event, being aware of
exactly how it‟s all going to turn out, doesn‟t inspire movement. It only creates regurgitated
feelings. When choosing your MOMENT BEFORE event, it‟s important to think about what‟s
going to motivate you to win. Using an event that you have anything less than a burning need to
resolve undermines your fight to win your overall and SCENE OBJECTIVES. If you use issues
that are current, you won‟t need to emotionally stew for long periods of time, because you‟ll be
trying to overcome a problem that you are living with every day and is therefore emotionally
available to you. Or chose an experience you had a long time ago but have not had closure or
resolution on. Using something that deals with a current life issue as your MOMENT BEFORE
wipes away the need to play mind games with yourself or to arbitrarily dig deep to get to that
PLACE that you ceased to care about long ago.
As with all the tools, don‟t be afraid to change your MOMENT BEFORE choices. In the arts,
change is inherent because interpretation is infinite.
EVEN IN COMEDY----The truth of comedy is that the inner choices an actor makes must be
more desperate, painful, angry and darker than drama!
Using “what if” circumstances---
If there‟s nothing particularly pressing happening and you can‟t come up with an unresolved past
event that appropriately affects you, don‟t try to make more out of a present event than there is or
try to use some past event that you‟ve ceased to care about. Instead, use a WHAT IF event based
on a real fear---something like an imagined experience born out of a deep-seated well- founded
Imagine all the details of an event that could happen as if it has happened.
When using a „what if‟ circumstance as your MOMENT BEFORE, it must be based on a real,
plausible fear that is personal to you.
Or you can take a real event from the past but instead of trying to re-create the past event,
imagine the same event happening again, a second time, right now.
Always make a MOMENT BEFORE event choice come from an emotional, relationship point of
Sometimes using a „straw that broke the camel‟s back‟ event from your life as your MOMENT
BEFORE choice can be very effective.
VIII. PLACE AND FOURTH WALL: Endowing your character‟s physical reality with
attributes from a PLACE and FOURTH WALL from your real life.
Using PLACE and FOURTH WALL creates privacy, intimacy, history, meaning, safety and
reality. The PLACE/FOURTH WALL must support and make sense to the choices you‟ve made
for the other tools. Ask yourself: “What PLACE from my life will inform and make the choices
I‟ve already made have even higher stakes.
To find your PLACE, you must first identify where the scene in the script takes PLACE. Inside
or outside? Is it the inside or outside space private or public? Then correlate the script‟s space
with a PLACE from your life.
As with all the tools: Always reproduce the physical aspects of the script from an emotional
point of view.
Once you choose the best PLACE, spatially endow the existing set with the reality of what‟s in
the room of the personal PLACE you‟ve chosen.
Endow PLACE before every rehearsal.
The choice you use for PLACE should have inherent OBSTACLES. If the PLACE you choose
is too easy to be in, you won‟t be compelled win your scene objective.
PLACE is an essential tool, even if it‟s supposed to be a PLACE your character has never been
in before. You need a PLACE that you can rely on that will supply the appropriate feelings over
Use PLACE to create a feeling of privacy
Using a PLACE that originates from your childhood can be extremely powerful because it‟s so
primal. The memories that emanate from our childhood are potent because so much of who we
are today stems from those past experiences. No matter how old we get, we always seem to
vividly remember important childhood events. This includes not only what happened, but where
it happened. And the where seems to instill very strong pictures and feelings.
Use PLACE to enhance your feelings.
FOURTH WALL: The FOURTH WALL is the dimension of the PLACE that makes the space
you‟re working in private, separating the actors and the stage from the audience or camera crew.
The FOURTH WALL is the edge of the stage or set. The FOURTH WALL encloses your
PLACE, establishing a sense of intimacy and privacy. When you are personalizing the floors,
walls and furniture of the set from your PLACE choice, you have to personally endow what‟s on
the FOURTH WALL, as well.
Accurately assimilate the FOURTH WALL of the PLACE you have chosen and endow it
When endowing PLACE and the FOURTH WALL, you don‟t have to imagine each and every
item in that PLACE and on that FOURTH WALL.
When making PLACE/FOURTH WALL choices, you have to keep in mind whether it‟s a
private/inside PLACE, a public/inside PLACE, a private/outside PLACE, or a public/outside
Personalizing a non-speaking person around you in a public/inside PLACE will enhance your
behavior---especially if the specific person threatens you either emotionally and/or physically---
because it amplifies the scene‟s OBSTACLES.
PLACE/FOURTH WALL also infuses a history to your work, making not only the even of
the script real but where it is happening real, too. It acclimates you.
PLACE/FOURTH WALL are necessary acting tools---don‟t ignore or forget to use them.
IX. DOINGS: The handling of props to produce behavior.
DOINGS are the physicalization of our intentions through the use of props. All the things
that people do in life are DOINGS---brushing your hair while speaking, washing the dishes,
getting ready for bed, setting the table for company, cooking, primping and cleaning.
Words can lie. Behavior always tells the truth.
When the stakes are high, we DO a lot. Unplanned moments cannot happen without
The use of DOINGS is so powerful that they allow you to convey your rage even if you‟re
DOINGS also gives the actor an alternative place to go.
DOINGS can create a sense of unpredictability.
DOINGS are essential because we see before we hear.
DOINGS must further your scene objective.
DOINGS spark mannerisms, unique affectations and quirky behavior.
DOINGS give your character a safe place to go.
DOINGS bring out a script‟s humor.
You can change the DOINGS.
Personalize your DOINGS by infusing information about your substitution and INNER
When identifying your character‟s DOINGS, consider their neurosis, career path and modus
DOINGS visually expose a character‟s neurosis---overeating, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc.
DOINGS reveal your character‟s modus operandi.
M.O. for people who use:
DOINGS define the career of the character: police officer, doctor, psychiatrist, nurse,
computer expert, painter, housekeeper, bartender/waiter, politician,
receptionist/secretary/assistant, housewife/mother, construction worker, actor, lab technician
X. THE INNER MONOLOGUE: The dialogue inside your head that you don‟t speak
While INNER OBJECTS are the pictures and images in our minds that are attached to the words
in the script, INNER MONOLOGUE is actual dialogue---words and sentences going on inside
our head. INNER OBJECTS and INNER MONOLOGUE are separate tools, but they are linked
because they must work together to create a linear and comprehensive inner story.
Using INNER MONOLOGUE in conjunction with INNER OBJECTS serves to accurately
duplicate the way a real person‟s thought process works.
The spoken words are available to the actor in the script, but it‟s up the actor to fill in the inner
conversation. INNER MONOLOGUE may be defined as paranoia: all the things you can‟t say
because it will make you seem wrong, vulgar, mean, insecure, crazy, stupid or prejudiced.
INNER MONOLOGUE includes:
>Thoughts and ideas of what you‟re going to say next.
>Second-guessing what you‟ve already said or done as inane, inappropriate, too
forward, not forward enough, stupid, trying too hard, scary, not scary enough,
>Interpreting what the other person is really saying and doing---
>Remembering thoughts of past history with that person, or past history that
occurred in a similar circumstance.
>Your slanted and paranoid interpretation of what the other person is trying
to say to you (at the same time the other person is saying it.)
>Anything you would censor if you were to say it aloud. Dialogue that remains
in be bad, not politically correct, inappropriate, evil, judgmental, paranoid and
ignorant. After all, you‟re the only one who knows what you‟re really thinking.
Using the word “you” enables interactive behavior as a result of the INNER MONOLOGUE.
The INNER MONOLOGUE is always stated in a way that connects with the other person.
INNER MONOLOGUE is not talking to yourself. INNER MONOLOGUE is the unspoken
communication between people. It creates an unspoken interACTION. Write your INNER
MONOLOGUE in a way that established intercommunication with you and the other
characters(s). To do this, use the word “you” when addressing your thoughts to the other person,
instead of expressing your thoughts to yourself by using “he” or “she.”
This interactive INNER MONOLOGUE will help to produce behavior, as well.
INNER MONOLOGUE helps you work to create a relationship even when you are not speaking.
The audience will pick up on an actor‟s INNER MONOLOGUE. The truth of what you‟re
thinking versus what you‟re saying will make us relate and respond. We identify with it because
we rarely say what‟s really going on in our minds. Saying what‟s really on our minds is often
contrary to achieving our goal. We couch what we really want to say to elicit the response we
Your INNER MONOLOGUE should be written out the way your mind really thinks.
INNER MONOLOGUE is what you can‟t say out loud because it will be antithetical to winning
your SCENE OBJECTIVE.
SCENE OBJECTIVE, OBSTACLES, SUBSTITUTION, MOMENT BEFORE, and
PLACE/FOURTH WALL are written at the top of the scene.
INNER OBJECTS underneath their attached words.
BEATS and ACTIONS to the right of the BEATed parenthesis; DOINGS to the left.
And now, INNER MONOLOGUE in quotes, below and across the page exactly where you
would think it in the script.
INNER MONOLOGUE makes you work harder to win your scene objective.
INNER MONOLOGUE is indicative of what you are really thinking, but can‟t say without
Our INNER MONOLOGUE can spice things up when we‟re having banal, boring conversations.
INNER MONOLOGUE provides information that the actual dialogue does not---helping you
earn the right of future events in the script, which is not often in the written word because it
would reveal too much too soon.
INNER MONOLOGUE gives you something to say when there is no dialogue.
INNER MONOLOGUE can give purpose and magnitude to scripted moments that seem
mundane or insignificant.
INNER MONOLOGUE can be the obnoxious, brazen translation of the scripted dialogue.
When you personalize your INNER MONOLOGUE, make sure it makes sense with your scene‟s
objective, substitution, personalized OBSTACLES and INNER OBJECTS.
INNER MONOLOGUE is not to be memorized, but the thoughts and ideas behind the
INNER MONOLOGUE makes any dialogue from any time period relevant and relatable to the
actor as well as to the modern audience.
Continue the INNER MONOLOGUE until you‟ve made a clean exit.
Your mind continues to think even when you‟re not speaking.
XI. PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES: The character‟s history that makes them who
they are today.
Who we are today is an accumulation of past events, our reACTIONS to these events and other
people‟s reACTIONS to us. This is also true for any character you are playing.
When you are playing a thirty-year-old character, you must give your character the details of
thirty years of existence. In every script the character has PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES that
define who they are; how they move in the world; and what they feel they must do to survive,
both emotionally and physically. You have to look at the character‟s who-am-I today by
investigating the information provided in the script and making assumptions based on the
dialogue and your character‟s past and present activities. This will tell you why your character
embodies a specific nature. The next step is to consider your character‟s history and the kind of
psyche and behavior that results from that particular history. In other words, how the
PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES have manifested themselves in present word and deed.
Finally, you must personalize by identifying how your character‟s history relates to yours.
PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCE recap:
1. Look at the PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES of the character by reading and
investigating the character‟s dialogue, as well as how your character is discussed in
other dialogue (whether or not your character is in the scene).
2. You consider how your character deals with life physically by examining the
activities, past and present, that your character chooses and relies on to exist and
survive in their world.
3. You look at why the character makes the choices they do---both socially and career-
wise. This information is derived from your exploration of the character‟s
PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, considering the actual information written into the
script, as well as anything you might be able to assume based on the written
4. Personalization. You look at how this information relates to you and your own
personal PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES.
Using PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES gives you substantial reasons from past events to have
to win your overall objective.
Write an emotional diary.
Never ignore who you are when you‟re getting into character.
Your past constructs your present and future, thereby making you a three-dimensional human
XII, LET IT GO: Trust all the work you‟ve done with the previous eleven tools and let it go.
To reproduce real life you have to feel like anything can happen and anything‟s possible.
Don‟t be lazy.
Work ethic and rehearsal time---the more time you put in, the better you‟ll be.
No, you cannot rehearse too much!
Rehearsals should include lots of starts and stops so that you can make sure:
1. You‟re being true to your OVERALL OBJECTIVE.
2. You‟re going after your SCENE OBJECTIVE.
3. There are OBSTACLES getting in your way.
4. The SUBSTITUTION is the most compelling choice.
5. The INNER OBJECTS are emotionally loaded.
6. The BEATS and ACTIONS are the most effective.
7. You‟re using a MOMENT BEFORE that creates a pinnacle of urgency.
8. You‟re using a PLACE/FOURTH WALL that is full and informed.
9. You‟re utilizing DOINGS that are appropriate and helpful to promoting the reality
and scene objective.
10. You‟re employing INNER MONOLOGUE that is free-flowing.
11. You‟re being substantiated by PREVIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES.
12. And each rehearsal provides you with enough of a foundation so that you can let it go
Be open to learning.